Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jüngel On Ecumenism

In the midst of the debate and confusion surrounding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), Eberhard Jüngel published Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith in an effort to bring some clarity to the situation. The book rarely addresses the JDDJ directly, but instead tries to answer the questions "What does Protestant mean?... Who or what really deserves to be called Protestant." It was Jüngel's hope that a straightforward and robust presentation of the basic Protestant article of the "justification of the ungodly by faith alone" would implicitly demonstrate that the JDDJ is not "the breakthrough it believes itself to be" and that it "rests on ground which proves at places quite slippery." The result is a brilliant and compelling exposition of the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae that is valuable beyond the polemical context of its origin. Sadly, the book is difficult to find in the US, as few libraries carry it and the cost is outrageous ($50 for the paperback edition!).

Given recent discussions on this site regarding justification, I hope to provide a more detailed summary of this book in future. For now, I think it's worthwhile to highlight Jüngel's thoughts on ecumenism in general. In doing so, it's important to remember that he is an avowed ecumenist who has been active in dialogues between Lutherans and Catholics for a number of years. However, Jüngel is firm in his belief that ecumenical progress cannot be purchased at the expense of doctrinal clarity and intellectual honesty. Thus, he admits that he "takes little pleasure in compromise." But this shouldn't be taken as mere stubbornness or confessional sterility on his part. As John Webster mentions in the introduction, for Jüngel, "contending about the truth is itself a contribution to ecumenism, since it is the truth of the gospel which is the only ground for peace." As Jüngel says, "ecumenism only flourishes when we on both sides become more Protestant in the best sense of the word. Then we on both sides also become more Catholic in the best sense of the word."

Based on such criteria, Jüngel's objections to the JDDJ were many, and I won't go into them here. Suffice it to say, he found "no sound theological foundations laid here 'on the way to overcoming the division of the church'. For here decisive insights of the Reformation were either obscured or surrendered." Moreover, in Justification, he seems to ask the question: Is anything really gained from such agreements?
"How is it possible to reconcile an ecumenical 'consensus about fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification' with the Pope's announcement of a Jubilee indulgence for the year 2000? An even more pressing issue is how to square that consensus with the spiritual outrage that, from the Roman Catholic point of view, there can still be no fellowship at the Eucharist between Protestant and Catholic Christians. Can we really, as the authors of the Joint Declaration expressly do at the end, 'give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church', when we are not authorized to celebrate the Eucharist together?"

In other words, if ecumenical agreements like the JDDJ are completely divorced from Church practice (i.e, like indulgences and communion fellowship) what is the point of these exercises? Given the importance of justification as "the article on which the church stands or falls", fundamental agreement on this matter should be enough to allow the two sides to share the Lord's Supper together. The fact that such fellowship does not exist (at least from one side) suggests to me that the agreement is only skin-deep.


Andy said...

I'm a big fan of the JDDJ and, to a large extent, a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church. I understand why people are perplexed by an indulgence being announced while the ink was still wet on the JDDJ, but it doesn't really worry me. I simply don't see the Jubilee indulgence as a statement of doctrine.

To me, the key to appreciating the JDDJ is keeping it in perspective and seeing it as what it is. As I see it, we put on paper what any objective person has known since the 1541 Diet of Regensburg. What was then rejected is now accepted -- namely, both "sides" recognize the basic truth that Christ saves us.

As regards the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae question and why they won't now grant us altar fellowship, it must be remembered that for the RCC justification was never the central issue. It's only central for us. For Catholics, the question has always been ecclesiastic authority.

Lee said...

I think what Lutherans and other Protestants can rightly ask of the RCC is that, if they're willing to accept an account of justification that is consistent with what we affirm, then they should be willing to reform the church in light of it (after all, wasn't that the whole point?). It may be that indulgences, say, can be given a theological interpretation that is formally consistent with justification by faith, but does it practically speaking direct people to Christ?

Calvinist theologian Peter Leithart had an article in First Things about ten years ago that seems pertinent. His argument was that Roman Catholic theology and pracitce tend to obscure Christ and the gospel, and that's why "Protestants still protest." See:

I wouldn't endorse everything Leithart says, but I think there's something to that.

Thomas Adams said...

Mel -- Please understand that I don't think the JDDJ is a total failure. As you point out, there are plenty of points on which the two sides can agree, and it’s good that we have a document that makes that clear. However, the degree of consensus was dramatically overstated, in my opinion. Perhaps you’re right that it simply affirms what was said in 1541 at the Diet of Regensburg, but it’s important to remember that Luther himself was not happy with that compromise, and modern Lutherans should not be satisfied with the JDDJ either.

I realize that my recent criticism of the JDDJ may seem a bit strange. After all, why now? So let me explain. My interest in this matter was piqued by reading a series of posts at Pontifications that lucidly presented the Catholic position on justification, as articulated by John Newman, Robert Gleason, and others. I challenge you to read those posts without coming to the conclusion that Lutherans and Catholics are miles apart when it comes to justification. Regardless of what the JDDJ says, thinking people in the respective churches continue to think about justification and salvation in very different ways. This was a shock to me, because I had bought into the notion (fostered by the JDDJ) that Lutherans and Catholics were basically on the same page. I no longer think that’s true.

A few more points. You say that the Jubilee indulgence is not “a statement of doctrine”. Why not? What was it if not an expression of Catholic theology? Also, I agree that, for Catholics, justification has never been the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. But isn’t that part of the problem? To my way of thinking, agreement on the matter of justification requires that it be viewed as a “special status doctrine” that norms our understanding of every other doctrine. Of course, the Catholic Church will probably never agree to this because there are elements of their ecclesiology that are simply incompatible with the Lutheran understanding of justification. As Carl Braaten wrote in 1989, “the evangelical criterion of justification sola fide mixes with the doctrine of papal infallibility like oil and water” (I've often wondered if he still stands by that statement). At the very minimum, agreement of justification should allow for communion fellowship.

Lee – I concur that Protestants should demand concrete reforms as a condition of signing agreements like the JDDJ. Otherwise, we are simply selling away our theological heritage for nothing in return. At the very least, Catholics could stop disparaging Protestants in their theological statements (as in Dominus Iesus, when they declared us barely Christians). I’ll make sure to check out the First Things article.

Ben Myers said...

"Sadly, the book is difficult to find in the US" -- I got my own hardcover copy from Dove Booksellers in the US ( They have it in paperback for $33, and in hardcover for $40. Still not cheap -- but it's worth every dime!

Thomas said...

But what about Missouri? They will never accept the JJDJ, correct?

Chris Tilling said...

I picked up mine second hand for 5 euro.
*feels like a lucky git*

Andy said...


Like my historical namesake, I am much softer on this than Luther was. At the same time, I think even Luther's view got distorted by the dark times of Lutheran orthodoxy. For instance, if Paul Althaus is to be believed, Luther held something like a two-part view of justification. And I think I may have even sold the JDDJ short in what I said before.

So let me say this, I think the JDDJ accurately reflects both Catholic and Lutheran teaching on justification and shows them to be in agreement without saying they are the same. People on both sides ended up jumping up and down saying it was a spurious agreement because it didn't address X where we disagree radically. Well, what is the significance of X being left out? Was it just swept under the rug so we could have the appearance of agreement? Or was there something else to it?

Personally, I'm of the Lindbeck school with regard to doctrine and ecumenical agreement. Sure, if we spelled out our complete teaching on justification it would be miles apart from what you would get if a Catholic spelled out their complete teaching on justification. But if we both summed up the core of what it means, might we not both come up with something very like the JDDJ?

And so this is where I stand. I see justification in Lutheran colors, but I don't imagine that any systematic treatment of the subject (Lutheran or otherwise) would fully grasp the mystery of justification. And so, I appreciate having views like the Catholic views (even a pre-Vatican II view like we get from Newman) around to be able to look at them and see if there is something else I can learn about justification, even if dogmatically it is entirely at odds with my own formulation of the doctrine.

As for the Jubilee indulgence, I'm perfectly willing to see it as the Pope having given his people an opportunity for an expression of piety as a purely pastoral act. I don't dispute that it was well grounded in his own thought (theology) on the matter, but I think it was, in essence, piety not theology.

Patrik said...

I have this growing feeling that ecumenism on the level of official representatives of different chruches sitting down to discuss doctrine has gone about as far as it can now. The Jüngel theory that ecumenism can be furthered by "protestants becoming more protestant" and so on is problematical. I don't see much progress being done in that area.

Rather ecumenism is furthered at the grassroot level today. When people from different confessions come together to enjoy each others company, maybe pray or celebrate a ecumenical liturgy, this is where reltationships are created that will one day make doctrinal differences into something that one has to cleared up, not defended. Unity of the chruches in the end is much more about people coming together than about various documents.

D.W. Congdon said...

I am no fan of the JDDJ, but that is because I am a huge fan of Eberhard Jüngel and not a fan of the man who almost single-handedly made the JDDJ a reality: Tuomo Mannermaa. According to some inside reports, the joint meeting almost ended with nothing when Mannermaa and the Finnish school of Lutherans entered the conversation and saved the document at the last minute. And even a cursory glance at JDDJ and Mannermaa's popular book, Christ Present in Faith, will reveal a large number of theological similarities: "Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith" (JDDJ, par. 26).

The importance of the Finnish school cannot be underestimated, and only with that in mind we can understand why someone like Jüngel can argue so adamantly against JDDJ. Many people find the Finnish school not only acceptable but the only acceptable school of Luther interpretation. Mannermaa has indeed resurrected Luther studies in surprising new ways, but there are many problems with his school of Lutheran studies that must be addressed at a different time. In short, he has a hyper-Orthodoxy which takes the communicatio idiomatum to an extreme degree by locating Christ's very person, all corresponding attributes, in the believer. He makes this move because he thinks it will foster ecumenical dialogue with Orthodoxy, never mind whether it does justice to Luther's text or, more importantly, to Lutheran orthodoxy as codified in the confessions. In fact, Mannermaa intentionally extracts Luther from the context of confessional Lutheranism.

Mannermaa aside, Jüngel is by no means simply repeating Luther. He also has his theological concerns and presuppositions. But a comparison between Mannermaa and Jüngel shows the obvious: Mannermaa is seeking to make Luther's text conform to ecumenical agreements, while Jüngel is trying to expound Luther in our modern context in a way that does justice both to Luther and to the insights of theologians like Karl Barth.

The JDDJ is indeed skin-deep, because theological compromises were made on the Lutheran side such that the document cannot speak for confessional Lutheranism. This is the end-result of Mannermaa's theological method: by extracting Luther from Lutheranism, he has rendered it problematic for any Lutheran agreement that employs his theology to ever speak for the Lutheran church. Jüngel is right to be upset, and he is also right to refuse any theological compromises in his pursuit of truth. The question for Lutherans should not be, 'How can we redefine our theological terms and categories so that they are consonant with our ecumenical partners?" but rather, "What is essential to our confessional position that is important enough for us to remain ecclesially divided?" The moment Lutherans exchange the latter for the former they do an injustice to the Reformers who felt that commitment to the gospel necessitated division, as awful as that is.

Lutherans, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, etc. cannot afford to weaken their theological voice by pursuing ecumenism at the expense of careful theological reflection. Lutherans, in particular, cannot afford to allow Mannermaa to speak for them without subjecting his theology to rigorous criticism. If his theology is going to speak for the church, the church as a whole must agree that he does so. Lutherans must not pursue table fellowship at the expense of theological clarity, because in the end they may find that their reasons for fellowship were not actually sufficient or representative. We need to maintain our integrity at the same time we pursue a unified church.

I happen to think Jüngel is the single best modern Lutheran theologian, and one of the top five theologians of this past century. Mark Mattes believes Oswald Bayer is the best, and even Bayer is a huge step up from Mannermaa. Jüngel is hard work, but he is worth it. Justification, which I have read several times, is a beautiful book, though many are turned off by its polemicism. I think one of his very best books is the little known volume which is a straight-forward interpretation of Luther, The Freedom of a Christian: Luther's Significance for Contemporary Theology. Of course, I recommend God as the Mystery of the World and Theological Essays I and II the most.

Andy said...

I said more about this on my blog, but I think it is worth addressing the question Newman raises in one of the passages quoted at Pontifications, "what is it in a man, which God seeing there, therefore calls him righteous?" Is it not Christ?

The biggest thing to be discussed, in my view, is how we can distinguish between Christ present in the believer and the believer present in Christ.

D.W. Congdon said...

The fundamental difference between Eberhard Jüngel and Tuomo Mannermaa on this point is the following: Mannermaa believes that Christ actually inheres in the believer through faith (divinizing the human), whereas Jüngel believes that the believer is taken extra se by God so that one's identity is no longer located in oneself but in God. Jüngel, correspondingly, believes that the fundamental purpose of theological anthropology is "denying the divinity of humanity" (Theological Essays I, 152). Mannermaa brings Christ to the believer; Jüngel brings the believer to God. The difference is enormous only in the drastically different outcomes represented by their respective theological works. As Jüngel says, and I concur, "Without a fundamental extra nos (outside ourselves) faith knows of no deus pro nobis (God for us) and certainly no deus in nobis (God in us). God is only near to us in that he distances us from ourselves" (God as the Mystery of the World, 182-83).

Thomas Adams said...

Great discussion, everybody. I apologize for my slow response, but things have been quite hectic for me for lately (I'm currently writing my PhD dissertation).

Ben, thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, the price has jumped to $41, so Chris is right to consider himself a bit lucky.

Thomas, you’re right that the Missouri Synod has not accepted the JDDJ, but they will never accept anything. So, while I agree with their decision to reject the JDDJ, I do not embrace their (non)approach to ecumenism.

Melanchton – I’ll respond to your remarks in more detail on your site. But let me say here that I don’t buy your suggestion that the differences between the Lutheran and Catholic positions on justification are only on the periphery, and that the core doctrines are essentially the same. For me (and for Jüngel), at the core of the Lutheran message are the various solas: sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus. Only on the solus Christus is there widespread agreement between the two churches, and even there, Catholic statements about Mary and the Saints have obscured the salvific exclusiveness of Christ. With regards to sola gratia, my recent post on created grace expresses my belief that Catholics and Lutherans use the word “grace” to mean very different things. And the same could probably be said for their respective views on faith.

Patrick – Perhaps I’m being unreasonable, but I really don’t think that ecumenism can be furthered by neglecting theology in favor of liturgy. After all, what is liturgy if not the concrete expression of our deepest beliefs (i.e., theology)? Of course, I’m all for people of different faiths and denominations getting together to pray, worship, and work together for a better world. But such collaboration at the grassroots, while promising and necessary, needs to be accompanied by theological reflection and, yes, documents.

D.W. – I think we are largely of one mind of this matter. Indeed, many of your criticisms regarding Mannermaa and the Finns are echoed in my previous post, “Thoughts on the Finnish Luther.” Like you, I am a big fan of Jüngel, and have read most of the books you list (though not without some difficulty). And it also appears that we listen to the same music – Sufjan, Wilco, Modest Mouse, etc. Weird… maybe we are sharing the same brain.

D.W. Congdon said...

I should have read your excellent post on the Finnish Luther before. Now that I have, along with the comments, I think we are indeed of one mind, to a surprising degree! I hope to offer a comment on that post in the next day or two.

Ben Myers said...
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